The Prince of South Waco: American Dreams and Great Expectations

Overview

In an ideal universe, theirs might have been the perfect love story from two separate worlds. But in the heart of the Bible Belt South, in America of the mid-twentieth century, their young love was forbidden because of their skin color. She was white, lovely, and privileged, growing up in a Tara-like Victorian home. He was Latino, dark-skinned, and working class—the grandson of a Mexican revolutionary who had fought with Pancho Villa. And an innocent waltz at a school May Fete—a waltz that they were not permitted...

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The Prince of South Waco: American Dreams and Great Expectations

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Overview

In an ideal universe, theirs might have been the perfect love story from two separate worlds. But in the heart of the Bible Belt South, in America of the mid-twentieth century, their young love was forbidden because of their skin color. She was white, lovely, and privileged, growing up in a Tara-like Victorian home. He was Latino, dark-skinned, and working class—the grandson of a Mexican revolutionary who had fought with Pancho Villa. And an innocent waltz at a school May Fete—a waltz that they were not permitted to dance together—came to symbolize their society’s racial divide.

In The Prince of South Waco, author Tony Castro narrates his sensitive rite-of-passage memoir of growing up Latino in the segregated South in an age when being different in America often brought the cruel, hard reality of the time, along with heartbreak and despair. He recounts how, as a child in an era before bilingual education and affirmative action, he overcame speech and learning disabilities and an inability to speak English to become an honor student with a penchant for literature, the classics, and writing.

Throughout his youth, he remained discreetly close to the teenage ballerina who had captured his heart. All the while, he encountered ugly warnings of violence and harm—against the two of them—should they see each other and defy the ages-old prohibition in the South against interracial relationships.

A story taking place before the enactment of civil rights legislation, The Prince of South Waco provides insight into the issue of racial discrimination and hate of the times.

Critical Acclaim for Tony Castro’s
The Prince of South Waco: American Dreams and Great Expectations

“Readers who step into Tony’s Time Machine, The Prince of South Waco, are in for a thrilling, lyrical ride, a true tale of romantic woes and raucous rebellion that will break readers' hearts. Castro’s coming-of-age story is a painfully poignant memoir of romance, racism and self-discovery fraught with recollections of lynchings, Jim Crow-ism, no-white-girl speeches, growing up Chicano and excelling as one of the best and brightest of emerging young journalists of his time. ‘How do you reclaim your destiny when it has been so connected with a love that has been lost?’ asks the author. And therein lies this soulful impasse.”
Preston F. Kirk,
formerly of United Press International, Houston

Tony Castro's honest and powerful memoir captures the essential American story of the struggle for cultural assimilation. The very best stories are written in blood, and in Castro's finely woven personal narrative, the reader can almost feel his heart beating."
Bob Vickrey
Contributing columnist, The Waco Tribune-Herald

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781475983883
  • Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 6/5/2013
  • Pages: 340
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.71 (d)

Read an Excerpt

The Prince Of South Waco

American Dreams and Great Expectations


By Tony Castro

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2013 Tony Castro
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4759-8388-3


CHAPTER 1

Part One: The Prince of South Waco


So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

– F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Waco, Texas 1958-1959


How often can anyone say that the moment they first saw someone was the instant their existence changed forever? The Bible cites Moses at the burning bush, the annunciation of Mary by the angel Gabriel, and the resurrection of Jesus among others. For Francis Scott Key in the American Revolution, the sight of Old Glory still billowing at Fort McHenry offered inspiration. For some in the decade that I came of age, the moment of personal enlightenment may have been seeing Elvis. To be sure, true revelation is rare. But when it happens, the few fortunate souls are left in a new awakening and, as the saying in the South went, smiling through the apocalypse.

At the age of eleven, I had only a murky notion of what the apocalypse was, but I was smiling all the time and constantly thinking about Patricia O'Neal. It began on an early spring day when she entered my life in the most unexpected of ways. We were on the edge of our elementary school playground near the end of recess where I was playing catch with a friend and she was displaying a perfect, if tentative, pirouette on pointe for her own set of admiring classmates nearby. Patricia was standing on a concrete walkway holding on to a handrail as if it were a ballet barre. As she let go of the handrail, she seemed to spring to her toes with a small hop. Then, raising one foot up and balancing on her other leg, she spun completely around herself and turned a second pirouette. Her girlfriends jumped up and down, sharing in the small triumph of her achievement. From what they were saying amid their laughter and squeals of joy, I could hear Patricia telling her friends she was studying pointe and how it was one of the most demanding skills for all ballerinas. I tried to absorb everything about her. She wore a silky, pink summer dress and what appeared to be ballet slippers, and her long blonde hair was pulled back into a ponytail that left her sensitive face aglow. Her muted slate hazel eyes caught mine, and she smiled when she saw me staring at her. That's when, in the delight of self-forgetfulness or the justice of the sports gods, the baseball I was gripping firmly just fell out of my hand. However, I couldn't stop staring at her; and, as I tried to pick up the ball, I dropped it again. The baseball rolled away, and Patricia smiled a second time and tried to pretend she hadn't seen my clumsiness.

"What's up with you, man, you can't even hold on to a ball today?" my friend Johnny Silva yelled, as he came over to pick up the ball. He saw that my eyes were glued on Patricia.

"It's just Patty O'Neal," he said.

"I've never seen her before, Johnny." At least I couldn't recall ever seeing her.

"Yeah, you have," he said. "She's a sixth grader, and she's been at Gurley her whole life. Stay away from her."

And we were fifth graders, which might have also explained why I didn't remember ever seeing her. They say there's a time you notice girls not for being girls but for being, well, girls. It's when brain chemistry kicks off the irrational behavior and flaky thinking of teenagers. I wasn't quite a teenager, but for weeks I had noticed my body changing in ways that I didn't quite understand. When I mentioned this to my father, he had smiled and said it was part of becoming a man and that we would talk about it soon. When I brought it up to my mother, she made the sign of the cross, blessing herself. Then she said to talk to my father. Couldn't anyone understand why Patricia O'Neal made me feel the way I did?

When recess ended, I watched Patricia walk back into the school building. She seemed weightless and sylph-like. She walked with incredibly erect posture, her shoulders back and flat stomach in, and long strides guided by her toes in a slight outward motion. It was a warm late spring Texas day, but I was cold and trembling. I was also breaking out in goose bumps as my body was taken over by a sensation that I had never experienced. The more I tried to stop thinking about Patricia, the more I was consumed by thoughts of her. Her pirouette replayed over and over in my mind, leaving me dizzy and light-headed. Could this be what it was like to have a heart attack? Had I died and was this young ballerina an angel? But eleven-year-old boys don't have heart attacks, do they? I didn't understand what I was feeling because for the first time in my young life, I'd fallen unabashedly, head-over-heels in love. What a time to suddenly feel like all my strength had been drained from my young body. A term paper was due tomorrow. There was a big math test Friday. Most importantly to me, Little League tryouts were in less than a week. But all I could think or care about was Patricia O'Neal. Patricia O'Neal springing to her toes on a hop and turning a pirouette. Patricia O'Neal smiling at me, as I couldn't hold on to the baseball. My mind was one big canvass painted with Patricia O'Neal and her lovely, delicate face that had been indelibly and forever imprinted on my consciousness.

I paid no attention in class the rest of the day, thinking about Patricia and wondering what Johnny meant when he warned me to stay away from her. Of course, if anyone knew these things, it was Johnny Silva. He was possibly the smartest kid in our class, not to mention without doubt being the best athlete and the most popular, too. He always had a smile on his face, and he had an enthusiasm for everything he did that was infectious. Teachers knew that if they ever wanted the boys in class to do something they didn't like, such as square dancing at recess on a rainy winter day, all they had to do was get Johnny involved. We all then became square dancing fools. Johnny's precocious wisdom about life also came from having an older brother, Junior, who had the newspaper route in the neighborhood and, with that income, the best baseball card collection around. Junior Silva had been the first kid with prize New York Yankee rookie Tony Kubek's card, and the previous fall he had cornered the market on Topps' special 1957 World Series cards of Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron mirroring their lefty and righty batting stances.

"Why did you tell me to stay away from Patricia O'Neal?" I finally asked Johnny as we walked home together from school that afternoon. We lived a block apart and always walked home together along a creek that took us past a golf course, under a bridge on Garden Drive, and through a cemetery where hobos sometimes camped out, eating wild blackberries growing in the brush and catching crawfish in the waterbed.

"Because, Tony, that's what Mrs. Redding said." Mrs. Redding was the Gurley Elementary School principal who favored Johnny, whom we all called "Mrs. Redding's pet," and I was puzzled as to why she would have said this to him. What could be so wrong about Patricia?

"Mrs. Redding? Honest? She said to stay away from Patricia O'Neal?"

"Well, no, she didn't say to stay away from her."

"Who then? Who did she say to stay away from, Johnny?"

We walked a while along the creek bank before Johnny would answer. He seemed embarrassed and uncomfortable that we were even talking about this. "Mrs. Redding said to stay away from white girls," he said.

"Mrs. Redding told you that? When?"

"One day when I was helping out in her office." Johnny sometimes sorted papers and opened mail in the principal's office as well as ran errands for Mrs. Redding. There were times when he returned to class bearing the latest rumors about students who were being suspended or, worse, expelled and whose parents had been called in for meetings with the principal. Johnny also knew the gossip about the teachers. One teacher's husband had been arrested for drunk driving, he said. Another teacher had been served at school with divorce papers. He said the sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Seals, received mail at the school from the fan club for Raymond Burr, the handsome Hollywood star of the popular Perry Mason television show. Junior Silva had also attended our elementary school, and Mrs. Redding often asked Johnny how his older brother was doing in high school.

"The last time I helped in the office I told Mrs. Redding that Junior had a girlfriend, and that they talk on the phone every night," Johnny said. "I thought she'd be happy to know that."

"So how did white girls come up?"

"Mrs. Redding asked who Junior's girlfriend was," said Johnny, "and I told her."

"So what's the deal with that?"

"She's white," Johnny said.

"So why does that matter?"

"Oh, you know," he said "Some people don't like to see white girls with Mexican guys."

"Mrs. Redding said that?"

"When I told her who it was, she made a face," he said. "Then she said to tell Junior that he should stay away from white girls. She said I should, too. That people who don't stay with their own kind can get into a lot of trouble."

But then Johnny Silva didn't really like girls. Not in that way. Of course, if you did like girls, you didn't admit to it. Johnny, though, had seen the way I looked at Patricia on the playground and how I had appeared completely befuddled and confused in the moments afterward. It was a secret I would keep to myself, even as I tried to steal glimpses of her every chance I could in the coming days. Fifth graders ate lunch before the sixth graders, so each day I would be the last fifth grader in the cafeteria, taking my time cleaning off my tray until the last second possible just to see her when she walked in for lunch. Our recess periods were also staggered, and I would purposely hang out with some of the sixth grade boys near the playground entrance to the school, talking baseball and about our Little League teams, just to catch a glance of her as she went back inside.

Patricia was the first thought in my head every morning and the last image on my mind when I fell asleep. My mom often complained that my bedroom was a place of worship to my hero, Mickey Mantle, and not to God. Maybe she was right. I did have a crucifix on a wall, but it was dwarfed in size by two large posters. One was a photograph of Joe DiMaggio, my father's favorite baseball player, and the other was of Mickey Mantle, who was my hero and the player who had succeeded DiMaggio in centerfield for the Yankees. Each evening my nightly prayers that began with "Now I lay me down to sleep ..." ended with a special request that God watch over Mickey Mantle, who had bad legs and was often injured. The night after I first saw Patricia, she jumped ahead of Mickey in my prayers to God.

I was so obsessed with Patricia that I imagined that one day, under circumstances even I couldn't foresee happening, she would be transferred to our classroom. Maybe she would be demoted one grade. Maybe they would find out she was allergic to something in the sixth grade classroom. I wanted to will it so much that I started getting headaches thinking about it. Then one afternoon, Patricia appeared like a vision standing at the door of my classroom. She was with her teacher, Mrs. Seals, and our fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Johnson, who both surveyed our room as if looking for something. Over the next few minutes they called several boys to the front of the class and asked them to stand tall and straight back-to-back with Patricia. She was unusually tall for her age, possibly five feet six inches, maybe even taller, and she towered over all the boys. Everyone, that is, except Gene Liggett and myself, though we both stood just a bit shorter than Patricia as well. A few minutes later, Gene and I had joined Patricia and the two teachers in the cafeteria, which also doubled as an auditorium. There Mrs. Seals explained that she had been put in charge of organizing and directing the school's year-end May Fete show that would be performed on a special night in front of parents and guests. Then she got down to business:

"Do either of you two boys know how to waltz?"

Gene said he had taken dance lessons, which delighted Mrs. Seals. She asked him to partner with Patricia in a waltz and turned her attention to a record player that was on top of an upright piano in a corner of the cafeteria. From it Around the World, the theme tune from a popular movie of the same name, began to play. Both Patricia and Gene appeared uncomfortable. She kept looking at the floor and averting her eyes, and I realized for the first time just how shy she was. To be honest, the only thing I really knew about Patricia, besides that she loved ballet, was that she was smart and kind of a bookworm. She loved to read, a classmate of hers named Skipper had told me. A bookworm like myself, wow, I thought: How more perfect could she be?

Watching Patricia and Gene dance, I felt like I might have blown it in not speaking up. I had taken dance lessons myself, though this wasn't something to brag about. What boy would? My parents had forced me to take dance lessons as a favor for my father's boss at the Veterans Administration Hospital. His boss' daughter operated a new junior cotillion in dance and etiquette in North Waco, and she had run into the age-old problem encountered by all cotillions: Not having enough boys as partners for the girls. I didn't want to do this, but my father bribed me with a new Mickey Mantle autograph model baseball glove. What a deal. My dad got to please his boss, and I received the benefits of society cotillion graces for free, not to mention new baseball equipment.

Now, as I watched her dance, it was impossible not to be struck by Patricia's grace and how she moved so naturally. Soon, though, I found watching Mrs. Seals much more interesting. She didn't appear happy with what she saw on the makeshift dance floor. Gene seemed stiff, and he might just as well have been dancing alone because he showed no connection with Patricia. You also couldn't really tell if he was leading her or the other way around. But, then, Gene always wore a look of disdain for everything. Mrs. Seals didn't even wait for the song to end before she stopped the music and turned to me.

"Tony, let's see how you dance with Patty?"

I wasted no time in taking Patricia's right hand in my left, and I carefully placed my other hand on her back, realizing immediately that she had an extremely high waist and incredibly long legs. A frightening thought occurred: Was I going to look ridiculously short? Was she going to wear high heels in the show? Would I look like one of the Munchkins with Dorothy? Thankfully, the music began again, and I was leading Patricia effortlessly for the next few minutes. We exchanged looks and smiles. I relaxed, but I could tell she wanted to say something.

"Is something wrong?" I asked. Was I holding her the wrong way?

"I'm not going to break," she said. She smiled shyly and avoided my eyes. "You can hold my hand a little tighter."

I firmed up my grip and felt her hand tighten as well.

"I think that will help you to lead me." She was right, and it felt nice to hold her hand. When I firmed my hold on her waist she smiled again.

"You'll tell me when I do something wrong?" I asked.

She nodded. This time her eyes locked with mine for a moment. "Only if you promise to tell me when I'm doing something wrong."

Up close I saw that she had the most captivating eyes I had ever seen and that they, too, were showing approval. As I guided her with long, flowing movements and turns across the dance floor in the cafeteria, I also caught a glance of Mrs. Seals from the corner of my eyes. She was beaming. So was Mrs. Johnson.

"Where did you learn to dance like that?" Mrs. Seals demanded playfully afterward, though I don't think she really wanted an answer. I wasn't about to tell anyone that I took fancy cotillion lessons, and the only answer that I would have given her was that my mother often watched The Arthur Murray Party on television. "It must be that Latin blood," she said. "But you have saved us."

I wasn't sure what Mrs. Seals meant either about the Latin blood or saving anyone. But I suppose that if she had to come to the fifth grade classroom to find a partner for Patricia, then that meant that all the boys in the sixth grade had struck out. Where were they going to find a kid in the fifth or sixth grades that they could teach to waltz in four weeks and then perform on stage in front of every parent of every student in the school? I wasn't sure I was even up to it and probably would have said I couldn't do it or didn't want to do it if hadn't been that I would be dancing with Patricia.
(Continues...)


Excerpted from The Prince Of South Waco by Tony Castro. Copyright © 2013 Tony Castro. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

Prologue....................     xi     

Part One: The Prince of South Waco....................     1     

Part Two: Fathers and Sons....................     57     

Part Three: Camelot and Curanderas....................     167     

Part Four: The Kingdom and the Power....................     248     

Author's Note....................     308     


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